Chirac seeks to calm anger in France over new labor law

French President Jacques Chirac on Friday urged immediate negotiations between the government and students and unions to defuse escalating anger over a new labor law that sparked nationwide marches and clashes with police.

"The government is ready for dialogue," Chirac said during a ceremony at the presidential palace. "I hope it starts as quickly as possible."

A quarter of a million people took to streets in some 200 demonstrations around France on Thursday, in a test of strength between youth and the conservative government of 73-year-old Chirac.

The students' anger focuses on a new type of job contract that would make it easier for employers to fire workers in their first two years on a job. But the protests reflect broader discontent with the government and France's direction.

Chirac stood by the law, calling it "an important element in the policy of fighting unemployment." The new contract "will create new jobs for young people who are today largely left out of the job market," he said.

Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin appealed for calm before students' final exam periods.

"We want students to be able to prepare for their exams in peace, to be able to have the freedom to study," he said before a meeting with university presidents.

The next major test will come Saturday, when unions and students plan to march together. Chirac appealed to all sides to remain calm and responsible for those marches, reports AP.


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